Households with solar installations are ideologically diverse and more politically active than their neighbours

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Abstract

Climate risk mitigation requires rapid decarbonization of energy infrastructure, a task that will need political support from mass publics. Here, we use a combination of satellite imagery and voter file data to examine the political identities of US households with residential solar installations. We find that solar households are slightly more likely to be Democratic; however, this imbalance stems primarily from between-neighbourhood differences in partisan composition rather than within-neighbourhood differences in the rate of partisan solar uptake. Crucially, we still find that many solar households are Republican. We also find that solar households are substantially more likely to be politically active than their neighbours, and that these differences in political participation cannot be fully explained by demographic and socioeconomic factors. Our results demonstrate that individuals across the ideological spectrum are participating in the US energy transition, despite extreme ideological polarization around climate change.

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Fig. 1: Location of households in study sample.
Fig. 2: Comparing party affiliation across households of solar adopters and neighbouring control households.
Fig. 3: Comparisons of mean partisan score for solar households and neighbouring control households across different geographic levels.
Fig. 4: Voting behaviour comparisons.
Fig. 5: Party registration by density of solar installations.
Fig. 6: Voting behaviour by density of solar distributions.

Data availability

De-identified data that support the findings of the study have been deposited in the Harvard Dataverse40.

Code availability

Replication code to produce the figures and analyses reported in this study have been deposited in the Harvard Dataverse 40.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank K. Goldstein for contributions to the data collection, as well as I. Stadelmann, L. Schaffer, P. Bergquist, participants at the 2019 Coevolution of Politics and Technology workshop, ETH Zurich, and participants at the Comparative Political Economy of Energy Transitions workshop, University of Lucerne, for comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Author information

M.M. and P.D.H. jointly participated in all stages of this study, including design, data collection, analysis and writing. C.M. participated in data collection and analysis.

Correspondence to Matto Mildenberger.

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Supplementary Tables 1–7 and Supplementary Note 1.

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Mildenberger, M., Howe, P.D. & Miljanich, C. Households with solar installations are ideologically diverse and more politically active than their neighbours. Nat Energy 4, 1033–1039 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41560-019-0498-8

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